A Friend to Sinners?

In Luke 5.27-32, Luke introduces us to the personal Jesus, the Jesus that every Christian longs to be like but in the darkest recesses of their souls knows what it would entail and it makes them second guess where to plant their next step as they follow Jesus. Do you want to take that step? Do I want to take that step? Because what will follow is something makes a lot churches of Christ cringe. But imagine a world where the church did just what Jesus did in these short verses. Let’s dig in…

The Set-up

First, Jesus calls a tax collector (or if you have a bible written by the Democratic National Convention, a “republican.” That’s a joke, so laugh). And we read that and think, “of course, Matthew!” But think about who and what Matthew is: he is a tax collector, one of the most hated professionals in all of Judaism. This man works for the Romans to exact taxes from the Jews and because he probably pockets some of that, over taxes them. This man is hated. No one wants to be in his fellowship circle and no one has them on their “five” (for you techies who know what I am talking about). No one, that is, except for Jesus. Jesus invites him to become a disciple.

Now imagine the most hated person in the world in your view. I know Christians don’t hate, so let’s pretend. There is a person who just makes your skin crawl every time you think about them. There are times when you wish you could tell them off, driving them up one wall and down the other. We would never do that of course because we are Christians. But this is the person Jesus called to be his disciple.  I don’t know about you, but that stings me. That hurts to know that Jesus woudl call this person who drives me crazy, I can’t hardly stand them…and he would call them to follow in his footsteps.

But it gets better than that: Jesus expects us to make them a disciple. If we are truly followers of Jesus, then we would make disciples of those people who we don’t really prefer (to put it nicely). If we are to walk step-in-step with Jesus, then this is what it means. But there is more…

The Setting

Levi apparently so enthralled that someone likes him, especially Jesus, holds a great banquet and invites everyone, including his tax collector buddies and some other degenerates from society. That is when the complaints start. The Pharisees ask the question of the disciples, “why do you (that includes Jesus) eat and drink with ‘sinners’?”

Let’s do some defining: a tax collector, as stated above, is the most hated person in the Jewish mindset. But there is someone lower than even him: the sinner. What is a “sinner?” I know instantly your minds may have gone to Romans 3.23: everyone is a sinner. Right, that’s a great “churchy” answer. But think about this: the Jews had a class of people they designated as “sinners.” These were the bad people, the people of society who were terrible sinners. They were prostitutes, criminals, and drunkards. They are the dregs of society. And so when we reexamine the question of the Pharisees, we see their dilemma. It’s a good question.

The Settling

Jesus settles the matter for us: he explains that his mission was for these people he was eating with. And we read that and make the application that we should evangelize the poor and needy. But does this really happen? There are few churches with lines full of these kind of people at our potlucks. Certainly there are churches which open soup kitchens and feed the homeless – but what about the rest. Ask yourself this: have you (personally) ever been called a friend of sinners? Has your church ever been asked why they eat with sinners? If not, why not? These are very pointed and poignant questions that demand answers from Christians everywhere. How are we viewed in regards to the poor and needy?

But even from this brief commentary on Luke 5.27-32, we begin to draw some lines. What would this entail if I really were to take this passage of Scripture seriously? I believe it would require of us time and money and energy that is all exerted for the glory of the kingdom. However, just looking around we don’t see many people doing this. Hence, they either are too busy or too poor or too tired to do the work. I think there is one thing we can all commit to beginning now – we can commit to never allowing another television show or entertaining expense or excuse keep us from doing what we know is right and that is mimicking our Lord, reaching out to the tax collectors and “sinners.”